Honorary Degree Recipients: Spring 2017

Sharon Johnston | Tomson Highway Sandra Pitblado | Gerry Price | Derek RileyJennifer JonesThomas Denton | Maria Chaput  

Sharon JohnstonHer Excellency Sharon Johnston, C.C.
B.A.(Western), B.Sc.(Toronto), M.Sc., Ph.D.(McGill), LL.D.

Honorary Doctor of Laws
Thursday, May 18

Her Excellency Sharon Johnston has given her formidable knowledge, a sympathetic ear and a visible platform to those living with mental illness. She is a fervent advocate who has challenged Canadians to remove stigma and create positive change.  Her desire to help others, coupled with her passion for health, wellness and the sciences, prompted her to pursue a career as a physical and occupational therapist. With determination and drive, Her Excellency completed her masters and doctorate degrees in rehabilitation sciences at McGill University while helping to raise five young daughters.

When her husband, Governor General David Johnston, took on his distinguished new role in 2010 she stepped forward as vice-regal consort. In this capacity, Her Excellency has advocated for all Canadians, from our children to our nation’s civil service, and urges us to consider mental illness in the same way we would any other illness.

She has travelled to Indigenous communities throughout the country and witnessed the challenges they face. Her Excellency was so alarmed by what she found that in 2012 she initiated the country’s first roundtable on Indigenous health, in her home at Rideau Hall.

She has advocated for better support and updated policy for our military members and their families. With her background in art therapy, Her Excellency sought paintings and sculptures to install at CFB Petawawa to help soldiers on their path to wellness. In 2016, she was appointed Honorary Captain (Navy) for Military Personnel Command of the Canadian Armed Forces in appreciation of her dedication and support.

Her latest turn is that of novelist. Matrons and Madams evolves around the theory that it takes four generations of a family to resolve the effects of war. It is loosely based on her insight into those that serve our country, and her grandmother, who served as a hospital superintendent after the Great War. Proceeds from the novel will support the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.

Altruism is an integral part of Her Excellency’s character. Beyond her mental health advocacy, she served on the Board of Governors for the Collège Marie de France and Bishop’s College School, and co-founded Friends of the Neuro at the Montreal Neurological Institute, which provides support for patients and their families.

The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, for her life-long commitment to the mental health of all Canadians.

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Tomson Highway playing the pianoTomson Highway, C.M.
B.Mus.(Western), LL.D.

Honorary Doctor of Letters
Tuesday, June 6

Born on the Tundra in December of 1951, Mr. Tomson Highway is the proud son of caribou hunter and avid dogsled racer, Joe Highway, and artist Pelagie Highway. He enjoyed a rich, early childhood in the northern reaches of Manitoba. His father wanted him to receive the education he could not access so he sent him to residential school. That’s where a young Tomson found music and developed a love for playing the piano.

He dreamt of becoming a concert pianist and completed a bachelor of music at the University of Western Ontario in 1976. Social work soon became his passion and he devoted himself to developing cultural-educational programs and working with Indigenous peoples on issues such as crime, addiction, and family separation.

By age 30 he combined his profession with his artistry, and turned his focus to playwriting as he appreciated how it mirrored the oral tradition of his Cree culture. In 1986, while serving as artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto—the first professional Indigenous theatre company in the country—he wrote the groundbreaking play The Rez Sisters. By portraying the difficulties of Indigenous peoples with sensitivity and humour, he set the tone for a new movement in Indigenous performing arts in Canada.

His follow-up companion play, Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, was the first Canadian play to have a full (and extended) run at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, and productions continue to be mounted globally. The play launched Mr. Highway’s name into the elite realms of international theatre and had a profound effect on the Indigenous cultural landscape. His award-winning first novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen, in 1998 won equal praise and continues to be used in university curriculum in classes across the globe, from Poland to Brazil.

The way in which Mr. Highway has claimed his experiences and the truth he portrays without fear has validated the stories of Indigenous peoples and spurned other artists into action. The proliferation of Indigenous arts courses and departments can be traced in large part to his influence.

He has served as playwright- and writer-in-residence at universities across the country, and has received recognition across genres, from Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Best New Play and Best Production in 1988, to a Juno Award nomination for Aboriginal Album of the Year.

In 1994, Mr. Highway became the first Indigenous author inducted into the Order of Canada, and he has been named one of the 100 most important people in Canada’s history by Maclean’s magazine.

The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, to Mr. Tomson Highway for his powerful truth telling, his generous artistic spirit, and his indelible leadership in the Indigenous creative arts.

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Sandra PitbladoSandra Pitblado
B.A.(Toronto), LL.D

Honorary Doctor of Laws
Tuesday, June 6

As a young girl growing up during the Depression, Sandra Pitblado was introduced to the alchemy of the arts in Winnipeg by her mother and grandmother. She knew even then how fortunate she was to experience the magic of a show, and a lifetime later has become one of Canada’s greatest patrons of our dance and theatre communities.

Ms. Pitblado met her husband of more than five decades, business leader Mr. Jim Pitblado, when both were working at the Great West Life Assurance Company. His career took their family, complete with five children, from Winnipeg to Montreal and Toronto, where she began to make her mark as an enthusiastic fundraiser for arts and culture.

Her support of The National Ballet of Canada has been particularly profound. She is a member of the organization’s Producers Circle, which provides funds for new productions, and she spearheaded the establishment of The Music Circle, benefitting the Ballet’s orchestra.

During her term as chair of the Stratford Festival from 1999 to 2001, she helped to facilitate the launch of the highly respected organization’s endowment foundation, as well as establish the Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training. The Avon Theatre was rebuilt and the Studio Theatre was constructed thanks to a significant leading gift from the Pitblados. An avid admirer of Shakespeare’s iconic works, Ms. Pitblado also helped to make it possible for the company to film its Shakespearean productions and distribute them to cinemas worldwide.

The Pitblados are loyal supporters of The Hospital for Sick Children and its SickKids Foundation, where they established a Chair in Cell Biology, in memory of their son, David, who was passionate about science and lost his battle with cancer in 2004.

The University of Manitoba has been a proud recipient of the Pitblados’ generosity, most notably a transformational gift in 2001 that created the Pitblado Scholars program in Law. They have personally met every one of the more than 200 scholarship recipients.

The Pitblados were named the outstanding philanthropists of the year by the National Society of Fundraising Executives in 1999, and received the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts in 2003.

The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Ms. Sandra Pitblado for her passion, her inspiring leadership, and her steadfast advocacy, all in the name of the arts.

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Gerry PriceGerry V. Price
B.Sc.(M.E.), M.Sc.(Manitoba), Ph.D.(Lehigh)

Honorary Doctor of Laws
Wednesday, June 7

Dr. Gerry Price’s father, the son of immigrants from Wales, earned an engineering degree from Carnegie Tech in 1932 and established a one-person sales company in air distribution products in Winnipeg in 1946. Dr. Price followed in his footsteps, earning a bachelor and master of science in mechanical engineering from the University of Manitoba.

After completing his doctorate in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in 1976, Dr. Price moved to rural Alberta to work as a defense scientific services officer with the Defense Research Board of Canada. One year later, he joined E.H. Price Limited and by 1986 he was appointed President.

As chairman and CEO of what is now the Price Group of Companies, the company has grown from 250 employees to more than 3,000, and sales from $30 million to over $550 million, with 19 sales offices and 13 manufacturing sites across North America. He immersed himself in every department of the company, even moving to Singapore at one point to oversee the development of its new manufacturing site. Price Industries is now a leader in air distribution equipment and technology.

The founding principles of the company have remained the same, and reflect a deep commitment not only to customer service but to research, development and innovation. Despite branching out to sites across the globe, Dr. Price has kept his headquarters in Winnipeg.

Beyond his business acumen, he is renowned for his loyalty to his home community. At the University of Manitoba, he has established and contributed to scholarships for engineering and architecture students, supported facilities in the Faculty of Engineering and recently established a bursary fund for Indigenous engineering students. In 2015, Dr. Price joined the President’s Campaign team for the Front and Centre campaign.

He has been instrumental in strengthening ties between the university and industry. Dr. Price was a founding member of Friends of Engineering, the Partners Program in the Faculty of Architecture, and the Associates of the I.H. Asper School of Business.

Dr. Price and his wife Barb are generous with their support, time and leadership, and highly committed to organizations throughout Manitoba. In 2011, they were named the Outstanding Philanthropists of the Year by the Manitoba Association of Fundraising Professionals.

In 2003, Dr. Price received the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Excellence Award. He was inducted into the Manitoba Manufacturers’ Hall of Fame in 2006, and became a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineers in 2011. He received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and a University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012. Manitoba’s Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists gave Dr. Price the Leadership Award in 2013, and the University of Winnipeg awarded him the Duff Roblin Award in 2016.

The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Dr. Gerry Price for his exceptional business success and innovation, his generous spirit, and his commitment to our province and its people.

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Derek RileyJ. Derek Riley, C.M.
B.Comm., C.A.(Manitoba)

Honorary Doctor of Laws
Wednesday, June 7

Mr. John Derek Riley was born into one of Winnipeg’s most esteemed families in 1922. He went on to become an Olympic athlete, a war veteran, a businessman, and a philanthropist of the highest order.

In 1943, he completed his commerce degree from the University of Manitoba in absentia, while serving as an officer of the Royal Canadian Navy aboard a Destroyer during the Second World War. He married his university sweetheart, Polly, during a one-month leave at home. After the war, in 1949, he completed his chartered accountant degree at the University of Manitoba. He took a job at the Hudson’s Bay Company and quickly established himself as chief financial officer of their fur trade division.

Mr. Riley competed as a rower in the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki, and rowing has remained a passion throughout his life. He led a campaign to build a new clubhouse for the Winnipeg Rowing Club—which now bears the Riley family name—and chaired the rowing venue for the 1967 Pan Am Games. He competed in Masters events up until the age of 75.
In his own words, Mr. Riley likes to keep busy and solve problems. He saw challenge and opportunity in Dominion Bronze & Iron Limited, whose leadership was struggling. Over the course of 25 years, he turned the firm into a highly profitable architectural metal company as president and CEO.

In 1987, at the age of 65, Mr. Riley became a founding investor and first chair of the North West Company, and was instrumental in brokering its purchase from the Hudson’s Bay Company. As part of his new position, he toured the North extensively and was shocked by the lack of opportunity for young Indigenous peoples in many of the communities he visited. He made a transformational gift to the University of Manitoba to support bursaries for Indigenous students coming from remote communities, as well as mentorship, educational and cultural programs for children and teenagers in these regions.

Mr. Riley’s unassuming generosity has improved the lives of Manitobans through organizations such as the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, United Way, Winnipeg Foundation, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Mr. Riley is a member of the Associates of the Asper School of Business. He was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Order of Canada in 2014.

The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Mr. Derek Riley for his business acumen, his outstanding philanthropy, and his commitment to Indigenous education and success.

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Jennifer JonesJennifer Jones, O.M., M.S.M.
B.A., LL.B.(Manitoba)

Honorary Doctor of Laws
Thursday, June 8

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Ms. Jennifer Jones grew up watching her parents curl at the local rink in their Windsor Park neighbourhood and by age 11, she started playing the popular winter sport in earnest.
At first, her participation was a means to overcome the shyness she felt as a child, but soon it became clear she possessed remarkable skills on the ice. By age 16, she had won her first of three Manitoba Junior Championships. She is a seven-time provincial champion, with an inaugural win in 2002; a five-time Canadian champion, with her first victory in 2005; and has achieved bronze, silver and gold medals at the world curling championships.

In 2014, Ms. Jones stepped atop the ultimate podium to receive her Olympic gold in Sochi, Russia. By then the face of women’s curling in Canada, Ms. Jones led her team to a continuous run of victories in the 11-game Olympic tournament, a feat that had never before been accomplished by a female skip.

Ms. Jones had first set the curling world on fire one decade earlier, during the Scott Tournament of Hearts, when she made what has become known as “The Shot”. Under tremendous pressure, she completed a difficult in-out maneuver to secure four points, claiming not only a game victory but her first national title. It had teammates cheering and fans across Canada trying to re-enact the spectacular move characterized by one announcer as “the best shot I’ve ever seen to win a game”.

She brings the skills she acquired through elite sport to her role as a corporate lawyer. Ms. Jones completed her bachelors of arts in 1996 and a law degree three years later at the University of Manitoba. She is currently a senior advisor and community ambassador at National Bank Financial.

Ms. Jones offers mentorship to young athletes through the organization Fuelling Women Champions, which aims to keep teenaged girls engaged in organized sport given the many benefits to their physical health and emotional well-being. Ms. Jones also serves on the board of the Health Sciences Centre Foundation and initiated the popular Celebrity Human Race, which has raised more than $2.8 million to improve facilities and patient care.

Team Jones will attempt an Olympic repeat in South Korea in 2018. Ms. Jones was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in 2014, and most recently, in 2017, declared a recipient of a Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal.

The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Ms. Jennifer Jones for setting the bar not only in sport, but in mentorship and strengthening community.

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Thomas DentonThomas Denton, O.M.
B.A.(Acadia), LL.B.(Dalhousie)

Honorary Doctor of Laws
Thursday, June 8

Mr. Tom Denton was born in 1934 in Amherst, Nova Scotia, and in the formative years that followed developed a finely tuned sense of injustice.

As a child, he was horrified when his father’s colleague—an esteemed Baptist minister and black man—was refused service at restaurants. As an arts student at Acadia University years later, he spoke out in an opinion piece in the student newspaper, effectively putting an end to offensive minstrel shows on campus. Once he became a corporate lawyer, with a degree from Dalhousie University in 1958, he convinced senior management to raise the pensions of employees who had been acquired through corporate takeover. He was also concerned about the democracy of a city with only one newspaper and therefore launched the Winnipeg Sun with three partners, in 1980.

When Mr. Denton convinced his Rotary club to sponsor a Vietnamese refugee family in the late 1970s, his background in law and his unyielding moral conscience found the perfect fit, and so begun a journey of compassion and care that has endured.

He has been called “the godfather of the refugee settlement sector in Canada”. From 1984 to 2000, Mr. Denton was the executive director at the International Centre of Winnipeg, supporting the needs of government-aided refugees. When he became frustrated by the number of people still turned away by the government, he created a platform through his church to bring in privately sponsored refugees.

Mr. Denton retired in 2000, but remained a highly sought-after speaker and policy consultant across the globe. He has served on the Council of the Sponsorship Agreement Holders of Canada; the Canadian Council for Refugees; the Premier’s Economic Advisory Council Immigration Task Force; and as chair of the Manitoba Immigration Council.

In 2006, he took on the executive director position at the Hospitality House Refugee Ministry. He remains at the helm more than a decade later, helping privately sponsored refugees navigate a complex process, and in turn, successfully sponsor their own relatives to reunite family.

Mr. Denton’s refugee rights and integration policy is considered protocol by countries around the world. He has called the fateful and systemic cruelties that refugees face “the fundamental moral issue of our time”, and is a fearless critic of government and regulatory bodies in his advocacy for updated policy and further assistance. Mr. Denton has been personally involved in the settlement of more than 40,000 refugees. For his remarkable efforts, he was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in 2014.

The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Mr. Thomas Ralston Denton, a seminal figure in human rights work and a hero to tens of thousands of refugees.

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Maria Chaput PortraitMaria Chaput
Certificat en gérontologie (Manitoba), Certificat en administration (Saskatoon), Certificat en gestion culturelle (Banff)

Honorary Doctor of Laws
Monday, June 12

Born in 1942, Mme Maria Chaput was raised in a francophone family in Ste. Anne, Manitoba, rich with French culture and with an unwavering dedication to their mother tongue. She would devote herself to ensuring future generations experience the same opportunity and freedom she had: to live life in the official language of their choosing.

Mme Chaput’s passion for language and minority rights was ignited when she went to enroll her eldest daughter in school. She and fellow community parents realized their French children had no choice but to receive an education in English-speaking schools. Mme Chaput and her colleagues faced court battles for decades as they fought for their legal right to access schooling in their official language. Thanks in large part to the tenacity of the community, the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine was established in 1994 and today the francophone division educates more than 5,000 students in 24 schools province-wide.

Mme Chaput believes strongly in the power of post-secondary education and yet it was not always within reach. The eldest of 11 children, Mme Chaput initially had to forgo university to stay home to help her mother but years later, while raising three daughters of her own, she proudly enrolled in classes at the Université de Saint-Boniface.

In 1984, Mme Chaput expanded her advocacy to the arts in the role of executive director at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain. She understands the need to create in one’s native language, and has said, “If I couldn’t speak French, part of my heart would be missing.”

She served as the first female president of the Caisse Financial Group in Manitoba, and also brought the integrity she is known for to her post as vice-chair of the Board of Governors at the Université de Saint-Boniface, deputy director of the Franco-Manitoban Society and director of the charitable foundation Francofonds.

Her historic appointment to the Senate in 2002, as the first Franco-Manitoban woman to sit in the chamber, cast a national spotlight on her trailblazing spirit. During her 13 years as a Senator, Mme Chaput served on diverse committees, including agriculture and forestry; national finance; foreign affairs; and of course, official languages.

She put forth Bill S-209 four times, to modernize the Official Languages Act, and pushed diligently for the language and cultural rights of francophones in settings as varied as airports, the Olympics and the Internet. Through it all, she has asserted that upholding French language rights is not simply an obligation or concession, but a central tenet and asset of the Canadian identity.

She has received numerous awards, including the Prix Riel of the Société Franco-Manitobaine; the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal; and the Légion d’honneur, the highest distinction awarded by the Government of France.

The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Mme Maria Chaput, a driving force for language and cultural rights.  

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Updated May 16, 2017